Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 553
To the Mainland
Shiks wasn't going to be an easy target; that much, Claude knew. However, he felt he didn't have a choice, as that kingdom was a little too disgusting. It was like a relentless stray dog. Though a few kicks might send it away after it sets its sights on you, it might come back later and watch you from afar, constantly putting you on edge. Perhaps when your guard finally eases, it'll leap over to give you a bite.
It was a shameless kingdom, whose king, Majid III, was somewhat of a madman. It wasn't to say that he was a bad ruler. His expert manoeuvring to curb the power of nobles in his kingdom was testament to his wit. He used the four colonial wars to chip away at their power base. While the Shiksan royal family became a laughing stock for their repeated losses, their might wasn't harmed in the slightest. Now, Majid III could make all decisions without objection from anyone.
Shiks was doubtlessly a dominating superpower in Northern Frea with territory akin to the combined territory of Aueras and Nasri, a population of 30 million, eight standing corps and vassal nations neighbouring it. It was also rich with mineable resources, allowing it to develop advanced industries. In one way, Shiksan were considered to be expert miners with a natural talent for it.
That was why all Shiks knew to do on Nubissia was mine in the inner continent while other nations developed their colonies. They loved to mine, gold and silver especially, since it brought them great wealth. In the decades they were on Nubissia, they mined nonstop and caused a lot of mineral ore to flow into Shiks.
If other nations had used so much military funding and lost some 18 corps only to lose the colonial wars, their ruling families would've gone bankrupt and nations would've collapsed from civil unrest. Yet, Shiks didn't seem to have experienced many changes. Instead, the royal family managed to secure their power base throughout those colonial wars, with the nobles scapegoated for the failures of the colonial wars.
After that, Shiks attempted to interfere in Eastern Freia by sending troops to annex the new Aueran territories with the excuse of helping with the restoration of Sidins and Rimodra. Then, they formed the new Union of Eastern Freian nations to fight Aueras as revenge for their losses suffered during the colonial conflict.
Using the debt Aueras owed Nasri and the war of debt, Shiks successfully formed the Union's army to invade Aueras and occupy its capital. Majid III rushed there to hold a grand military parade and also announced he would exterminate Aueras completely to rid Eastern Freia of the belligerent nation that was the ruiner of peace and root of all conflict.
In fact, Majid III's words almost became reality. Had Aueras not had military aid from the region, it might not have continued to exist. Only after Thundercrash and Monolith set foot on Freia did the scales tip in Aueras' favour.
After Monolith's triumph in Ambruiz, Nasri and Shiks' forces were greatly damaged. They retreated a good 50 kilometres before finding their footing once more. Thundercrash, on the other hand, attacked from Port Floric and swept through the Askilinian, Rimodran and Sidinsian regions, exterminating those two restored nations once more and capturing all family members of the two dukes.
Then, they charged straight for the Nasrian capital, Polyvisia, breached it, and captured the Nasrian royal family. Setback after setback dazzled the Union's army. The crisis at their rear caused them quite a bit of worry. Having no other choice, the Union's army retreated from the Aueran mainland and marched for Polyvisia, intending to deal with Thundercrash and Monolith first.
In the end, the Battle of Polyvisia saw the Union's army and the two corps of the region face off in an all-out battle. While the Union held numerical superiority, they fell prey to the region's trap. The greed of the Union's soldiers led them to their deaths. Only the commander-in-chief of the army, the Shiksan Duke and Lord Militant Pillag Xi Feriot, noticed something was off and escaped with 100 thousand troops back to Shiks.
In other words, Shiks once more lost to Aueras. The elimination of Sidins, Rimodra and Nasri caused their territories to be absorbed by Aueras. Thundercrash occupied the Great Plains of Canas, forcing Duke Canas to escape to Shiks with his family. All of Eastern Freia now belonged to Aueras.
Under normal circumstances, Shiks should've signed a peace deal with Aueras already. They were not neighbouring nations, after all, being split by two nations in between. With Shiks being the loser of both engagements, there was no need for them to continue struggling against Aueras. As long as they were willing to admit defeat, Aueras wouldn't make flagrant demands of them either and the two nations could finally achieve peace.
Yet, Shiks just had to have that mad king on the throne. Majid III would never admit to being the loser. Even after his loss of four standing corps and one strong fleet, he didn't send an ambassador to sue for peace with Aueras and would rather let the state of war persist to this day.
Apart from refusing to admit to his failures, Majid III also supported the escaped Prince Vedario as the new Nasrian king, despite the elimination of the kingdom. The surviving prince and Duke Canas formed courts in exile in Shiks. Shiks announced that the Second Great Eastern Freian War had not officially ended and that they would continue to help their allies reestablish their nations and wipe Aueras out.
It was truly a despicable feeling. It was as if no matter what one did, there would always be someone lying in the darkness with bad intentions, watching eternally, like a predator waiting for a chance to pounce. Claude received word in the region of Shiks that the hereditary fiefs of the nobles in the Nasrian region often came under raids by bandits from Mambamark. They could almost detect the smell of Shiksan informants behind those bandit attacks.
Initially, Claude rather enjoyed the spectacle of the kingdom's nobles being raided. He didn't think the royal capital being troubled by Shiks was a bad thing. At least, the capital's attention would be diverted from the region. He was especially envious with how Fredrey I had used enfeoffment and the bestowment of hereditary Titles to get a huge sum of money from the nobles to solve the kingdom's financial crisis in one go.
Other things aside, the 30 million crowns they got from the region alone as well as 400 thousand new rifles, 30 million rounds of ammunition, and 16 ironclad warships alone did wonders to tick Claude off. However, he alone couldn't go against the arms deal, as there were the interests of the region's council members, honorary nobles and Titled warriors to consider. Getting their own hereditary fiefs which their descendants could inherit in exchange for a sum of money was the pinnacle of what they could achieve.
Currently, the Aueran mainland was in a really good position to develop and prosper. With enough funds and waning noble influence in the royal court, Prime Minister Blancarte went full throttle with his plan to restore the kingdom's economy. Though only one year had passed, initial results were promising.
Claude didn't mind seeing the small-scale skirmishes that happened at the border of the Nasrian region and Mambamark. While Nasri had completely been enfeoffed to the nobles and they ought to deal with the bandits with their private forces, the king still had to send ambassadors to Mambamark to deal with the issue as the kingdom's representative.
Little did Claude know that Operation Wildfire would attract the mad Shiksan king's attention and cause him to send ambassadors to contact the Shiksan folks. That was something Claude couldn't tolerate at all. So, he secretly ordered the two Shiksan folks to return to the region.
As he had said to Sybilos and Drivick, if Shiks' informants managed to infiltrate the region and contact the freed Shiksan captives and threaten them with the safety of their families, the region would fall into chaos.
If he continued to let the two Shiksan folks carry out Operation Wildfire at the western coast, given their might, they could easily help one group of natives control their own colony. Should an ambassador manage to get in touch with them, that would allow Shiks to easily send troops to Nubissia once more. The fifth colonial war would start just like that.
That was the defining reason behind Claude's insistence on dealing with Shiks once and for all. He had to make that shameless nation kneel and give a kick for good measure to ensure it wouldn't cause chaos behind the scenes any longer. Only then could the kingdom continue to develop economically without worries. The region would also be able to continue Operation Wildfire uninterrupted.
To Claude, now was the greatest opportunity to defeat Shiks, mainly because Shiks had just retreated from the Second Great Eastern Freian War in defeat. Even the stubborn Majid III couldn't change the fact of their failure and the extermination of other nations in their Union. Even though the two governments in exile still existed in Shiksan borders, they had lost all their territory and were at their lowest point.
Additionally, the region and Aueras still maintained military superiority over Shiks in both technology and tactics. They were decades ahead of the Shiksan forces.
Thundercrash alone was enough to take on two Shiksan corps. Claude would be a fool if he didn't press his advantages on the battlefield immediately and waited for Shiks to catch up.
Thirdly, Claude didn't lack any guides through Shiks. The eight homecoming Shiksan folks were the best vanguard he could ask for. They didn't belong to the Shiksan royal family, but rather, Majid III's enemies, the Shiksan nobles. They hated Majid III with a passion for seeing them as disposable and leaving them to rot in the region, not to mention stopping them from returning and reuniting with their families.
Claude basically treated the 500 thousand Shiskan captives as his own. The only trouble he had was how to make sure they were loyal to him and willingly became immigrants in the region. Taking them to fight a war in Shiks to bring their families back was the ideal choice.
It was also a win-win situation for the region. They would gain millions more immigrants, unlike the meagre thousand plus they got from Aueras yearly. The 500 thousand captives and their families could easily number up to two to three million new immigrants.
Claude didn't need the eight Shiksan folks to be cannon fodder, as much as they hated the royal family and the nobles that didn't care for their safety or send anyone to visit them in the region.
He only needed them to hold the territories conquered by Thundercrash. They were Shiksans to begin with and wouldn't have to worry about resistance from the local population. They could even use their experiences to stoke their sympathy. As long as no trouble broke out at the rear, Thundercrash could charge forwards at the forefront without worry.
On the 16th of the 1st month, Year 604, Claude boarded the new flagship of Ironclad, Armoured Cruiser Saint Hughslind, and departed for the Aueran mainland.
"Our region's ironclad warships have three standout properties, namely, construction, speed and firepower. In this age, no other naval force has ironclad warships that compare to ours. Most other nations are still researching how they can make these heavy ships move. We have a huge lead over them, so our main priority is focusing on how to improve our battle capabilities and seafaring range.
"I've always considered speed the most important factor in naval combat. We can only catch up to our enemies if we're fast. Even if we're numerically disadvantaged, we can use speed to perform hit-and-run tactics or surprise attacks that break enemy ship formations before dividing and conquering them.
"Firepower is also really important. Currently, we don't really have to worry about defences for our ships as the enemies' breechloading ship cannons aren't a huge threat to our armoured ships. Only heavy-ship cannons firing gigantic round shots stand a chance at damaging our ships.
"However, our ship cannons are still not that impressive yet. Have a look at the six turrets at the front of the ship. There is one cannon for each turret currently. Only when we have two cannons on each turret can we consider them a success. Naturally, our cannons are still known to be the best ship cannons ever made thanks to the fact that other nations haven't made any advances yet. The mere fact that we can shoot 2500 metres away is already a huge improvement."
Claude was circling the ship with Moriad and discussing naval-battle tactics. He was also sharing his thoughts on their current warships, not letting Moriad free until he made sure all his thoughts had been emptied into his head. Two decades later, the retired Moriad would write a naval treatise and credited Claude as the father of modern naval battles.
After a 16-day voyage, Ironclad finally appeared at Sharkmouth Bay near Whitestag. Two ironclad warships whistled a welcome from afar. One could see a sailor waving two differently coloured flags on the deck of the ship on the left with a telescope.
"The flag signals say Prime Minister Blancarte is ready to welcome Lord Militant Claude back home at Whitestag," Moriad said.
"What's the prime minister here for?" Claude mused suspiciously, "This is the last six ironclad warships we're handing them. Shouldn't the head minister of the navy, General Placek, be coming to take over command of the ships?"
"It's obvious the prime minister came for you, Chief. You're a Lord Militant, after all. Only the prime minister can match your rank for a proper welcome. As for what plans he has... well, you'll have to meet him to find out," Moriad said with a smirk.
"Darn... and I wanted to go straight to Northbay... Whatever. Let's dock first. I'll hear what he has to say."